SheitGeist, Installment 3

Our man Kamiboy concludes his epic look at Japanese RPG games in this, the third part of his SheitGeist series, discussing CG, Final Fantasy and, yes, Bioshock.|

Introduction:

I have no false and pretentious aspirations of professionalism staying my hand, so my bias will come across with all the subtlety of a shotgun to the face. So, if you are one of the lepers who thinks the westerners are doing a bang up job of steering since they seized the reins to this industry of drunken bullocks then by all means feel free to sod off and jump off of a cliff. But please don’t, because the following was written with the specific purpose to piss you off and ruin your day, like you have mine. Then you can jump off of that cliff.

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The strange beast that is the JRPG, Part 3:

Previously on SheitGeist:

Last week we discussed how the average JRPG delivers the approximately equal amount of thrill and enjoyment as other game types. Unfortunately unlike other types of games it has become the norm in JRPG’s to spread that delicious buttery 15-20 hours of thrill and enjoyment thin over a 90+ hour large piece of toast. Of course nobody would want to partake in that butterless toast, so the bland tasting butter substitute called unnecessary, often random, battles is applied to make the whole thing appear more edible.

To cut a scene:

Now, let me say a few things about the western gamers and one of the many things that they have their knickers all tied in bunch over. The typical western gamer, likely due to a diet of fast food and chemicals, seems to be suffering from several birth defects. One of these that is a point of interest is ADD, which is why only games that allows them to fire a gun every half a second seems to hold their interest. This ADD causes them to loose interest in things pretty quickly unless it constantly requires them to mash buttons, which again means that all those beautifully crafted cut scenes you, my dear RPG makers, put into your games to push the plot forward is lost on them because mashing buttons while they are going on doesn’t really do much of anything. Their simian minds cannot comprehend that the mash buttons parts of some game can suddenly be interrupted with stop mashing buttons and pay attention to the story parts. Typical for primitive animals upon being confronted with something that they don’t understand they get angry and start throwing things around, most likely chunks of their own faeces, until they pass out from exhaustion, the poor things.

Some crafty developers in the west have figured out ways to circumvent this mental defect of their consumers by cutting away most of what can be called story in their game and replace it with presentation, which is finely demonstrated in games like Gears of War. Others still have found other ways to circumvent the problem by creating the illusion of not watching an cut scene by playing said cut scene inside the games engine, enclose the player in a small area, most often a room, while the cut scene is running, and here ingenious part, allowing the player to still control his character and move around a little while the story sequence is going one. Of course the character can do very little if anything at all while the story sequence is going on which means that it is no different than watching a video but apparently this little fact that the player can cock up the presentation of the story sequence by running around a bit and complicate things for the storytelling department means that the brain damaged gamers of the west seem to suddenly not complain about story sequences any more. The sudden withdrawal of complaints seem to be little more than their malfunctioning brains suddenly mistaking the story sequence for something “interactive” because they can mash buttons and still get results. For a demonstration of how this so called “interactive” story sequence works look no further than games like Half Life and Assassins Creed. For other even more retarded examples there is always the option of dissecting Bioshock, or BioSheit as I whimsically call it, though steer clear of its overrated gland, it is bloated with excrement residue and inflamed to the point of exploding.

Personally I urinate on the graves of people in the west who seem to feel that controlling a confined character trapped in a story sequence is a great triumph in interactive storytelling, so I strongly suggest that you, my dear JRPG creators, keep doing what you are doing because your cut scenes are infinitely cooler and more interesting than anything that can achieved in the tight confines of the former method and the added freedom is just an illusion for the brain damaged anyway. Not to mention the constraints and complications it puts upon developers often results in their heroes becoming mute puppets in order for the player to feel he is the hero, not just controlling him, and immerse himself further in the game. However, dear JRPG developers, if you ever find yourself so desperately cash strapped that the only option left to you is to bolster sales in the west just enough to be able to afford a gun so you can shoot yourself then feel free to take a stab that this retarded new way of storytelling, but please don’t.

Rock-a-bye CG:

Next, Square-Enix, I am mostly looking at you. It is time to put the pre-rendered CG cut scenes gently to bed, calmly sing it into a lull with a lullaby, then, when it least expects it, slowly reach for that big pillow. Force the pillow over its tiny head in one swift violent move, ignore the rigorous struggles of its little hands while smothering it to death, just push harder, then wait for it to stop twitching and hold the pillow there for a few minutes more, just to be sure. Don’t worry, the little shit thoroughly deserved what it had coming.

It is the year of our lord 2008, for 10 years now Kojima-sama has managed to do all the cut scenes in the Metal Gear Solid series without using even a second of pre-rendered CG footage. The PS3 is powerful enough to allow developers to convey in-engine action and emotions to such an excellent degree that pre-rendered CG is now not only effectively obsolete but the use of it is down right embarrassing. Vagrant story didn’t use any pre-rendered CG, everything was acted out via the in game engine, and sure, the storytelling techniques used in Vagrant Story weren’t so extravagant, but the ones in Metal Gear Solid were, and both those games were PSOne games.

Not to mention how well it worked when Final Fantasy XII embraced in game cut scenes and cut back heavily on the CG fest while still only being a PS2 game. Even the tiny bits of CG that FFXII used felt very awkward and out of pace with the rest of the game, as CG always feels in every game it has ever been used in. People started using them back when games started shipping on CD’s because the world was stupid back then and everyone thought CG sequences that had nothing to do with the game were somehow cool, but the novelty has since faded, leaving it is place many a cringe and disappointed sighs.

Final Fantasy XII:

If you like JRPG’s then you prolly heard of Final Fantasy, because it is something of the flagship series in the genre. We all know that conservative genres like the RPG need to be changed from top down not the other way around. So, in order for things to start changing then the big studios like Square-Enix have to do it first in a successful manner so everyone else will feel confident about marching to the same tune. Well, this has already happened with FFXII because it is the first of the main FF games that truly breaks conventions and tries something new. Of course, this is to be expected because the guy helming it was Yasumi Matsuno, the under appreciated genius behind Vagrant Story. Mixing the paradigm shifting stylings of team Vagrant Story
with the main stream appeal of a Final Fantasy title seemed like the perfect opportunity to help bring over the brilliant ideas of Vagrant Story into a title that had a chance of selling more than 100.000 copies worldwide.

Imagine my surprise then when I started up the game and discovered that FFXII had taken a radically and strangely roundabout way of solving the major problem of RPG’s having mountains of generic pointless encounters that needed trekking in order to make pit stops at the far apart oasis that are the brilliant bits. It seems that in FFXII they did not choose to go with the Vagrant Story solution of getting rid of the throw away encounters by reducing their number and upping the difficulty. Rather it seemed that FFXII resolved to free you from having to perform the same action of selecting the attack button a million times by enabling you to write a script that just automated the process. So while you roamed the surprisingly monsters filled but random encounter free plains of said game you could do so by just controlling your characters with one hand and leave the fighting to your scripts while enjoying a cup of tea or enjoying a wank with the other free hand.

Now mind you, I am not saying that the gambit system isn’t bloody brilliant, because it is, but I just find it to be a very strange patch solution to the repetitiveness and artificial prolonging of a game by sprinkling it with too many generic encounters. The game is still bloody long and 90% of the encounters could have easily been rid off without taking away anything from it other than the opportunity of levelling up. This kind of solution is like trying to fix a hole in a wall by hanging a beautiful oil painting over it, isn’t it? As great an idea the gambit system is it never the less is nothing more than a very sophisticated way of going out of ones way to hang on to the archaic traditions of RPG games.

I was puzzled by why Matsuno would go this route, but after a little research it was pretty clear why it happening was prolly out of his hands. It turns out that when the FFXII team was being assembled the pure bloodline of the Vagrant Story team was tainted with the filthy blood of the untermensch that worked on FFXI. Yes, the same FFXI that wasn’t a Final Fantasy but a MMO which should have just been called FFO not FFXI as it didn’t deserve being part of the main Final Fantasy series. You see, rumour has it that the Vagrant Story and FFXI teams were often at odds with each other during the design phase of FFXII and some secret going ones behind the scenes finally led to Matsuno resigning as the head of the FFXII team about midway through the project and leaving Square-Enix outright.

Looking at FFXII with this in the back of your mind sure sheds a lot of light on all the strange design choices in the game. It is clear that the game was an unfortunate compromise between the new thinking’s of the Vagrant Story team and that other teams wishes of making the game more like FFXI, an MMO. The result is something that seeing past its long length I find hard to dislike because is shares many aesthetic similarities with Vagrant Story and traces of that games DNA can be found everywhere, though unfortunately it is often sandwiched between the dirty DNA of FFXI.

I attribute all the good parts of FFXII to Matsuno and his Vagrant Story team and blame all the other bits on the FFXI team. It sure is smashing to have a scapegoat, but I shan’t imagine I can do the same when FFXIII rolls in because with Matsuno gone so is the main backer of his philosophies on RPG design. In other words I fully expect FFXIII to revert back to taking after FFX or FFXI more and Vagrant Story much less, which is a damn shame. Meanwhile Matsuno seems to have fallen off of the radar for the last 3 years so I can’t even console myself with just playing his latest under appreciated gem.

So, what else did Vagrant Story do right, besides every bleeding thing?

Let sum it up, how exactly does Vagrant Story differ from most other JRPG’s? To begin with, it is only 30 hours long, the perfect length for an RPG if you ask me. Secondly, unlike all other JRPG’s I have ever seen it actually has replay value, that is right, after finishing it you don’t want to yank out the disc and break it because while the game was good it never the less overstayed its welcome by oh, lets say, 60 or so hours of gameplay. After you beat Vagrant Story you can start up a new game from your completed save and get to keep all the equipment you found on the first play through and you gain access to new exciting areas to explore. The crazy thing is that since the game is awesome you would want to play it gain, if not immediately then at least some time later. At the time most JRPG’s hit the 50-60 hour marker I am sick and tired of them and from that time on I rely solely on my stupid compulsive desire to finish every game I start playing to carry me over to the finish line. In contrast to that I have currently played through Vagrant Story 4 times, and I can tell you as the industry continues its descent into silliness that number is likely to only grow.

What else, let me take a gander at my long list here, yes, the combat and how immaculately perfect, rewarding and new thinking it is. Depending on your perspective Vagrant Story is either challenging or just bleeding hard to the point of being sadistic. In other words the combat actually requires you to pay attention to what you are doing and not just repeatedly select the attack command to pass a fight with an generic foe like most other JRPG’s. In Vagrant Story even the run of the mill monsters running around the abandoned town of Ivalice have a taste for your jugular and can hastily invoke the Game Over screen if you underestimate them.

What more, the game is absolutely filled to the brim with boss encounters that require you to be extra crafty in order pass with the skin of your teeth. To help you best one of these many powerful beasties the game has the mother of all customization systems. You have 3 attack and block buttons and can freely decide which each button does, which you will need to because each boss should be approached differently. Then there is the wonderfully complicated weapon and armour crafting part of the game which I have passed many an hour dabbling in. Sure, you get plenty of weapons by raiding treasure chests and felling foes, but nothing beats spending the time to create that perfect set of equipment fitted exactly to your needs and playing style.

Lastly, let me point out what the absolute most important thing Vagrant Story did to fully deserve any praise it receives and cost any of its critics with the punishment of being hanged, drawn and quartered. That one thing is the fact that the developers of Vagrant Story made a conscious decision of not trying to make Vagrant Story in the image of any game that had preceded it. In other words they decided to throw away any form of tradition and conventions and started to think outside the box. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Japanese developers are bloody brilliant when it comes to doing exactly that. Unfortunately though, this fact does not seem to carry over so well to the JRPG developers.

Closing:

In closing let us once again praise the greatest achievement of the Vagrant Story team, their ability to think outside the box which was a good thing because boxes often being rather small having so many heads jammed into one makes it stink rather bad in there. Now, granted, the JRPG box is surprisingly spacious making the air inside it just needing a general airing out compared to the FPS box in which the stench from the pale rotting corpse of creativity has rendered it unfit for any living being. But it never the less would certainly not hurt to stick ones head outside the JRPG box and take in a little fresh air, it clears the mind.

If you are in the FPS box however, please stay inside it as the time spent inside its noxious environment has melted you
r brain and turned you into a zombie, rendering you immune to the effects of fresh air, which you, if you should by any chance escape the box, will ignore in favour of hunting the living for their soft delicious brain tissues.

Even if you weren’t a zombie what good would it do to return to the box with a clear head anyway? To try and “improve” the FPS genre would be like happening upon a giant mount of dung left behind by a dihearettic elephant with a questionable diet, then upon noticing a single dry leaf that has fallen upon it from a nearby tree, walk up to the dung pile and proceed to lift up the leaf, throw it into the bin leaving the giant steaming pile of shit intact. The only viable solution for the FPS box is to simply burn it along with everyone inside it.

The ultimate game taking place in first person has already been created anyway and it was called Metroid Prime. Within the span of one game Nintendo managed to do more in a first person game than the entire FPS developer community had managed to do these last 20 years, the useless gits.

So, what does the future hold for the JRPG then? The PS3, unlike its predecessor the PS2, is currently suffering from a serious shortage of JRPG’s and things don’t look like they will improve any time soon. But a few titles seem to be coming within the foreseeable future. Valkyria Chronicles and White Knight Story are two such titles. As sad as I am to see so few JRPG’s on the PS3 I am never the less delighted to see how much new thinking there is evident in those titles alone, so maybe all the stuff I wrote were not necessary anyway, but you all read them just the same, didn’t ya you suckers.


Part 2/3
Part 1/3

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